By Matt Jackonen, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 13, 2013
Come November, University President Mary Sue Coleman will take her fifth international trip in hopes of promoting the University’s global identity, this time to India.
In her tenure as president, Coleman has taken trips to China, Ghana, South Africa and Brazil. Each trip was intended to strengthen ties with the University’s alumni in the regions and to promote the University’s image on the international stage.
According to Mark Tessler, the University’s Vice Provost for International Affairs, Coleman’s trip to India will last for about one week, in which she will travel to Mumbai and the nation's capital, New Delhi.
Tessler explained that India's importance in the global economy and investment in higher education make it an attractive destination.
“It’s quite dynamic and we have a lot of faculty members here who have good professional contacts we can build on," Tessler said.
“There’s also a major American initiative from the United States and the Indian government … in cultural exchange and education,” he added.
Coleman spoke late last year in an interview with The Michigan Daily about the travel decisions.
“We had made the decision…(by) consulting broadly across the University with faculty, particularly where we thought the best impact could be for me to go,” Coleman said. “That’s how we chose China in the first place, then we chose Africa, then we chose Brazil based on those conversations.”
Coleman focused on the idea that the trip should be mutually beneficial to the University and India. In her previous international trips, she not only focused on promoting the University's agenda, but also on programs such as the Science Without Borders program in Brazil, which already has five students from Brazil participating and benefiting from it.
“We are not going to set up a campus in India. We’re not going to try to recruit students,” Coleman said. “We’re not going for any of those things that would just be helpful to us.”
Programs in Brazil and Africa have strengthened the University’s research in many areas. Coleman said the sustainability program in Brazil and medical research in Ghana have been beneficial to the University.
In India, Coleman hopes to reach out to the alumni base. She noted that alumni meetings in these regions have morphed into a great opportunity for the University.
“The Alumni Association has found these (alumni meetings) to be very, very helpful as they develop their international alumni focus,” Coleman said. “We are taking full advantage of these trips to try to make ourselves more accessible to these countries, as well as to have more impact.”
Tessler mentioned further goals for the trip.
“We’re exploring some interesting opportunities for some new educational exchange study abroad programs, collaborative research for our faculty members and collaboration between some of the units on campus like the school of medicine or LSA or any of the schools (and their Indian counterparts),” Tessler said.
Tessler also noted that the University is “very eager” to maintain and develop contact with the alumni in India who are “tremendous sources of support.”
Jo Rumsey, vice president for International Alumni Relations at the University of Michigan Alumni Association, said the alumni in India have been largely self-motivated.
“They have a lot of MBA graduates, and now BBA graduates, who are generally visible people in their communities,” Rumsey said. “They take the initiative. They get out there ahead of others. India’s alumni — for almost as long as I’ve been here — have been pretty active in wanting to stay in touch with the University.”
The University’s alumni base in India has an effective leadership structure that is broken down into regions, so the association can maintain efficient contact with the separate regions.
Rumsey said India’s alumni are more organized than that of many other countries.
“They’ve been on the ground for a long time and were probably ahead of most other countries, frankly,” Rumsey said.
Rumsey also said it was the persistence of C. K. Prahalad — a former professor at the Business School from the 1970s until his death in 2010—that fostered a relationship between the University and India that led to many of the programs in India.
One of these programs is the University of Michigan India Business Conference that was started three years ago and is on the itinerary for Coleman’s trip.
“I have not seen anything like this anywhere else in the world,” Rumsey said of the conference. “I’m hoping President Coleman will be able to participate in it as part of her travel and that certainly we can bring more alumni together around that function.”
Brodie Remington, the director of development and international giving for the Office of Development at the University, spoke at length about what type of relationship the University maintains with India.
“The University of Michigan is an extraordinary place with relationships. Academic relationships, research interest relationships, faculty relationships, and student recruiting relationships,” Remington said. “In a place like India, we have all of those things.”
Of these relationships, Remington noted that there are multiple exchange programs and shared research projects that provide benefits to India and the University at almost any level or college within the University.
Remington noted that law schools and health systems n particular have been beneficial to both sides.
Coleman said the University does a comparatively good job in promoting and strategically planning these international trips when measured against other universities across the country.
“In my experience, Michigan plans these more carefully and more strategically than any other university I’ve been involved with.”